Sunday, December 8, 2013

League Analysis: Issues Related to Influence Points (And More)

Season 4, much like the seasons preceding it, is the start of a new chapter in the League of Legends that bring sweeping changes to the game. Most of these changes are in the form of champion balance or meta-altering implementations. In addition, there have been various altercations made to almost all parts of the game (except the part involving a decent, working client). Transcending the gameplay aspects of League of Legends, however, is the fact the game is getting extremely popular as a result of esports being on the rise, with League of Legends, along with other titles such as Starcraft 2 and DotA 2, spearheading the way into new territory unlike anything ever seen before in terms of entertainment for gamers and spectators alike.

With that said, the growth of League of Legends as a result sheds a harsh light on issues that have been mentioned time and again. One general issue in particular rises above the rest because it affects the growing playerbase that results from the popularity of League of Legends: the Influence Points (or IP for short) system. These issues, while mentioned individually in some form on sites like Reddit or the League of Legends forums with offered solutions, have been such a core part of the game that there is no single, easy solution. With the previous statement in mind, the solutions to the issues covered will result in a lengthy article that will end up extending beyond what seems like the initial scope of what the article seems to cover. It is worth noting not all the solutions presented are likely to be original, though I have devised them personally as a result of analyzing the issues, either through personal inspection and experience or by reading numerous statements on the matter.

With that said, let us dive into the issue (head's up, this article is pretty long - skip to the last section for a summary.

The Issue(s)

In League of Legends, players gradually earn a currency called Influence Points by playing matches, scaling with the amount of time spent playing. Winning matches can earn a little extra and winning the first match on a given day (within a 22 hour period) awards an additional 150 IP. Players can also purchase various boosts to greatly increase IP gain with the premium currency of Riot Points (RP for short). IP, as mentioned above, can be used to unlock numerous core features of the game, including champions, runes, which are used in rune pages to bolster a champion's strength before the game, and rune pages, which are be used to hold various sets of runes for specific champions or roles.

Prefacing with background information aside, there are issues with the IP system that can be summed up into three notable issues:

The first issue is that unlocking features with IP can be very time-consuming if a player wishes to reach optimal competitive levels in terms of stats, meaning newer players are severely at a disadvantage against veteran players in terms of stacking up in terms of champion pool, runes, and runepages, all of which can (or perhaps is intended to) be purchased with IP. The sheer intimidation of the IP pricing along with the fact RP can be spent to unlock many of these competitive features making the game effectively "pay-to-win" harms playerbase retention.

The second issue is a lack of any IP sinks for players who have purchased all the content that can be purchased with IP. While this affects a small percentage of players and it's not like having excess IP will flood the client and cause it to explode, causing the IP to flow out onto your desktop, the players who reach "IP cap" grow each day, betraying the poor design. If a currency exists, there should be a reason to use that currency available at all times (not just for new champion releases, which are few and far between anyways since League of Legends has grown so much).
An example of the second issue of having too much IP. I don't have this much IP as of this article's posting, though I have a lot.
The final issue is largely related to the first. When attempting to solve the first issue, what often ends up happening is that less money will be made since fewer RP purchases will go towards content that can be purchased with both IP and RP, such as with rune pages. While I personally don't like the idea of having to pay a lot of money for content I can unlock with IP and can argue playerbase retention is more important than (potential) short-term income, there is validity in the tactic from a marketing standpoint. It is also worth noting that resolving the first issue by reducing IP requirements also may reduce the sale of IP boosts.

The Solution(s)

As you can see above, there are three definitive issues with the IP system, the first of which is massive and the second and third of which are a little smaller. In the first set of sections, smaller problems (marked with a "1" followed by a letter) related to the first issue will be tackled. In the second set of sections, (marked with a "2" followed by a letter) both the second and third issues will be tackled. There will also be numerous suggestions that directly or indirectly solve other unmentioned issues or discuss ideas mentioned somewhere else. These are just a bonus in the grand scheme of finding solutions for the primary issues at hand.

1A: Give New Players More Rune Pages

One of the twenty rune pages I have...
When a new account is made, a player receives two rune pages to use for their rune setups. However, when it comes to optimal play two rune pages may not cover a single role too well and it would be close to impossible to cover multiple roles. Players would then have to eventually buy more rune pages unless they plan to use two different rune setups for their League career. However, the price for rune pages is poorly balanced, costing 590 RP but 6300 IP while champions cost 975 RP and 6300 IP.  This makes the price of rune pages IP expensive and almost certainly not worth purchasing with IP compared to RP. In addition, the rune page bundle that gives 7 additional rune pages makes RP-related rune page purchases even more cost-effective
It's a little hard to see the prices, but the price of the single rune page is listed above and the bundle is 2600 RP.
As stated in the first issue, new players may be turned off to League of Legends upon recognizing the frustration of this pricing scheme and how necessary rune pages become. Thus, to alleviate the issue, instead of giving players two rune pages, give them five. This is enough to have some role coverage or to thoroughly optimize a role or two while still providing some motive to reach the maximum levels of optimization by unlocking all 20 rune pages. Furthermore, consider normalizing the price of rune pages (either increase the RP or decrease the IP price). While this isn't completely necessary, it would make the pricing scheme seem more fair.

1B: Remove Rune Tiers

Besides the stats they grant, runes are categorized in a few ways at the moment. Runes are split into categories that determine where they can be placed in rune pages to empower champions. Runes are also split by tiers gated by summoner level requirements. However, the third tier of runes, which can be used from summoner level 20 onward, are the strongest tier of runes and the ones used in all forms of play at the level cap, effectively making previous tiers of runes worthless by that point.

Based on the facts above, it can be concluded the first two tiers of runes are a newb trap. These lower tier runes are a decent option in terms of IP pricing and can potentially see a little use as filler while a player grinds the IP needed to earn tier three runes or to obtain advantage at earlier levels, but there isn't as much of an advantage to playing at greater optimum at lower levels compared to at max level. Also the IP spent on the lower tier runes is essentially wasted once the runes are either replaced by tier three runes or rendered obsolete at summoner level 20.

Furthermore, rune tiers are pointless in general. While power to the players is gated as they level up, players already have other power gating mechanics as they level up to feel a sense of progression and growth. Players unlock mastery points to use in the mastery trees at a rate of one with each level, capping out at 30. Since masteries also increase champion strength with each point, power is gated there. Players also unlock rune slots that open up once with each level up, capping out at 30 rune slots (9 mark slots, 9 seal slots, 9 glyph slots, and 3 quintessence slots). Finally, summoner spells unlock at certain levels, such as summoner Ignite at level 8 and summoner Flash at level 12.
A comparison of each tier of rune by the stats they grant and the IP they cost.
What can be concluded then is rune tiers are more of a detriment than a boon. Buying lower tier runes is almost certainly a waste of IP (even when the rune combiner is used) and just baits newbs from saving their IP purchases that will have a long-term impact on their gameplay (in terms of statistics or champion pool). Make the third tier of runes the only available runes to purchase because while they are expensive compared to lower tiers of runes, the mileage is far better. If curbing power is still an issue, the runes could scale directly with summoner level. This may not be necessary with rune slot unlocks being restricted by summoner level even taking the usage of tier three runes in each slot at earlier summoner levels into account, however.

1C: Normalize the cost of runes

As mentioned above, runes are tiered in an attempt to gate power with the tier 3 runes being the most expensive. Strangely, however, runes within a tier have difference price points. For instance, tier 3 marks, seals, and glyphs can be 205, 410, or 820 IP each, while quintessences are 515, 1025, and 2050 each. This means that runes of a certain stat can cost four times as much as another rune, which to me makes no sense. This is because balancing pricing based on stats is a poor philosophy that sets a bad example of what stats are more desirable to have in a rune page (and even this isn't true, since some 205 runes are frequently used).
An example of the pricing disparity between runes in the same tier (note that these are only the ones I don't own).
What can be concluded, then, is the price differences are pointless and unfair, making the price of some sets of runes almost (or more) than that of a recently released champion. The solution, as the section's title states, is to normalize the price of runes. The easiest way to do this is to take the average price of quintessence and non-quintessence runes. The end result is that players will spend roughly the same IP to obtain all the runes but may spend less IP to buy specific runes they may need.

Here are the average price points with calculations, with potential rounding suggestions:
Non-Quintessences: x65

17 priced at 205 IP (3485 IP total)
33 priced at 410 IP (13530 IP total)
15 priced at 820 IP (12300 IP total)

3485 + 13530 + 12300 = 29315 IP for 65 Non-Quints
29315/65 = ~451 IP

Suggested Price Point: 450 IP
Quintessences: x33

3 priced at 515 IP (1545 IP total)
18 priced at 1025 IP (18450 IP total)
12 priced at 2050 IP (24600 IP total)

1545 + 18450 + 24600 = 44595 IP for 33 Quints
44595/33 = ~1351 IP

Suggested Price Point: 1350 IP
1D: Rune-filled Goodness

As mentioned in above, unlocking rune slots is, in a way, gaining a little extra power from leveling up, giving a sense of progression. Following that line of reasoning, removing rune tiers seems was a logical option with rune price normalization following that. However, while players do effectively gain power when unlocking the rune slot, the power earned means little if there's no rune to put in. To introduce players to the usage of runes, they could receive a small number of random runes that are usable in the rune slot that is unlocked upon advancing in summoner level. This addition is optional, but would enhance the tangibility of personal advancement in League of Legends.

What shouldn't be an optional, however, is the addition of rune bundles purchasable with IP. They could come in various sizes with larger sizes giving more random runes when purchased (and opened). The size tiers could also be more price efficient with increasing bundle size. For example, the size tiers could work like this:
  • A small bundle gives three random runes at the cost of 1250 IP.
  • A medium bundle gives five random runes at the cost of 1850 IP.
  • A large bundle gives ten random runes at the cost of 3550 IP.
Rune bundles could potentially be available for specific colors of runes, though quintessences would have to be more expensive because of the higher price point those runes are set at. The general idea of this suggestion is players have the option to gamble their IP on getting runes for less but potentially getting undesirable runes. The end result is players spend a little less IP if they want to get all the runes, but it is unlikely players will get runes they specifically want by purchasing the bundles, thus making them more desirable to manually purchase.

1E: The Rune Converter

With the previous suggestions in place, this opens up a possibility for some change for the better with a previous feature. What I am referring to, as this section is titled, is the Rune Converter. In its current incarnation, the Rune Converter converts five runes of a lower tier into a random higher tier rune or two runes into a rune of the same tier. This serves almost no use and there are topics on the Rune Converter occasionally that often talk about how infrequently it is used in its current state.
The Rune Converter in its current form.
Coupling this observation with the suggestions to remove rune tiers and add rune bundles, the Rune Converter can be re-purposed to eliminate unwanted runes from purchasing rune bundles, allowing players to sacrifice two runes to make a rune of their choice (split between non-quintessence and quintessence). This allows players to eliminate undesirable runes from rune bundles or other sources (accidental purchases, for instance) in favor of runes they want.

2A: The Collection Tab

Now that the first issue is resolved by the various suggestions above, it is time to move on to resolving the second and third issues. While this may seem strange, the first suggestion will seemingly work towards directly solving other issues that aren't within the scope of the article. This suggestion proposes the addition of a "Collection" tab to summoner profiles.

The Collection tab would contain various things that summoners have collected, such as champions, champion skins, and ward skins, the latter of which can only be viewed in the shop and the former two of which can be viewed in the shop and the champion tab in the summoner profile (not all champion skins can be viewed in the shop). It could also potentially contain summoner spells, cutting down on the clutter of tabs in the summoner profile.
An example of seeing skins owned in the shop. Note that Riot Squad Singed doesn't show due to the limitations of the shop.
Most importantly, with this addition it is key to add some sort of inventory to hold items. While there aren't any items that a summoner can hold at the moment, the following suggestions will alleviate that issue by adding various vanity items for the purpose of solving the aforementioned two issues. It is worth mentioning the concept of an inventory isn't exactly original (look at DotA 2, for instance), but with enough variance in the League of Legends inventory system, which the next sections will hopefully alleviate, the addition isn't a blatant copycat of existing systems.

2B: Sweet, Sweet (Vanity) Loot

In DotA 2, after playing matches, players can potentially collect loot in the form of skins and other various items that are then put into an inventory for trading or later use. As mentioned above, the proposed Collection tab would also have an inventory to hold such items that can be awarded for playing matches in League of Legends. As the section's title implies, these item drops should be strictly vanity, making them a non-competitive addition that allows players to customize their gameplay with a little flair. Furthermore, loot could drop from playing specific maps or completing specific objectives, motivating players to try new things without outright forcing them to do so. Here's a list of a couple vanity item categories (with examples) that could be added:
  • Consumable item drops: These add a vanity effect for a specific number of matches when used. For instance, there could be an item that causes fireworks to appear at the beginning of autoattack animations or causes a ray of light to shine on the champion when they successfully use an ability. These items shouldn't conflict heavily with existing visual effects (such as champion spells, Sheen proc, etc) and should have the option to be cancelled at any time. In addition, players should have an option to disable vanity effects (though some will only affect a single player's point of view).
    • Celebratory Flare: For the next three matches, causes autoattacks to occasionally shoot fireworks over your champion's head.
    • Ethereal Star Gown: For the next three matches, causes your champion to emit sparkles of light periodically.
    • Touch of Nature: For the next three matches, causes your champion to grow plant life when they move.
    • Dice of Greed: For the next five matches, all champions you kill or assist on will drop sack of gold (stays as long as they are dead and cannot be interacted with).
    • Deed to Wealth: For the next five matches, changes all money display (bounty, gold earned, etc) to a diamond color instead of a gold color.
    • Chilling Breath: For the next three matches, when your champion uses an ability, a small hailstorm over your champion's head for a brief time.
    • Runic Relic: Awarded in Summoner's Rift only. For the next Summoner's Rift match, causes jungle buffs to visually appear in their original, legacy version.
    • Conqueror's Intensity: Awarded in Dominion only. For the next Dominion match, causes captures to emit an intense shower of sparks originating on the champion.
    • Bottled Lightning: Awarded in Dominion only. For the next match when your champion touches a Speed Shrine or has the Greater Relic buff, they leave a path of lightning in their wake.
    • Brooch of the Shadows: Awarded in Twisted Treeline only. For the next match, when your champion captures an altar, it expels an immense amount of shadows.
    • Box of Poro-Snax: Awarded in Howling Abyss only. For the next two matches, your champion can purchase Poro-Snax from the shop (they can only hold one at a time).
  • There can also be rarer non-consumable vanity items such as trophies that can be added to the collection or items that can be used repeatedly to add a vanity effect (like wallpapers). Trophies could have requirements set to earn them much like earning an achievement.
    • Baron Nashor trophy: Can only be awarded in Summoner's Rift matches where your team defeated Baron Nashor.
    • Vilemaw trophy: Can only be awarded in Twisted Treeline maches where your team defeated Vilemaw.
    • Number One trophy: Can only be awarded in Dominion matches where you ended as the top scoring player.
    • Reroll trophy: Can only be awarded in Howling Abyss matches where you used a Reroll.
    • Champion of Valoran trophy: Can only be awarded if your match history shows you played on all four maps.
    • Mechanical trophy: Can only be awarded for completing a bot match (has to be through matchmaking).
    • Trophy of the Gathering: Can only be awarded for completing a Custom match.
    • Snowdown Wallpaper: When used, changes your profile to have a Snowdown flair.
    • Ancient Spellbook: When used, changes the background of your Rune Pages to a mage's flair.
    • Tome of Military Strategy: When used, changes the background of your Rune Pages to a fighter's flair.
    • Workshop of Progress: When used, changes the background of your Item Sets to match the glory of Piltover.
    • Workshop of Bandle: When used, changes the background of your Item Sets to a Yordle's flair.
As you can see, there's a lot of potential here.

2C: The IP (and RP) Sink for Vanity

Following up on the previous suggestion, some of the vanity loot could also be purchasable from the shop for IP (and maybe RP), allowing players to have an option to sink their excess currency. This would make a fantastic addition (or alternative) to the skin rentals for IP. In addition to this, a purchasable boost could be added that increases the drop rate of items from playing matches significantly so players can acquire their vanity faster (which doesn't affect the competitive nature of the game except in terms of collecting). Price points for the boosts could look like this:
Match-based boost prices

3 Matches -   1250 IP/150 RP
7 Matches -   2550 IP/300 RP
15 Matches - 4800 IP/550 RP
25 Matches - 6500 IP/750 RP
40 Matches - 9000 IP/1000 RP
Since RP-purchasable vanity has already had precedence set down (in the form of champion skins and ward skins), it wouldn't be a far cry to set RP prices on these new vanity suggestions too. To keep with the spirit of collecting it shouldn't be possible to buy everything, but this is a potential avenue for compensating short-term financial losses from the first set of solutions, satisfying the third issue. The second issue is also satisfied as well since players can choose to spend excess IP on the new vanity.

Final Statements

In this article three issues related to adjusting the Influence Point system were pinpointed. The first issue was that (newer) players may be more difficult to retain due to the amount of Influence Points they would need to generate to purchase features that are more or less required for optimal play. Furthermore, with some purchased features such as rune pages, there is a blatant cash grab that may further frustrate players and turn them off to playing League of Legends. By suggesting changes such as directly reducing the amount of features a player needs to purchase to be competitive by increasing the amount of rune pages they begin with and fixing poor design and contradiction such as the rune tier system and pricing system, the IP system is far more stable and sensible for newer players.

The second issue was that (veteran) players had little way to eliminate excess IP, which is easily resolved by adding vanity that can be purchased with IP while implementing (somewhat un)original concepts. The third issue, resulting from resolving the first issue, was that there would be a potential financial loss (at the very least in the short term), which was resolved by adding opportunities for players to spend money on more vanity somewhere else (instead of requesting something illogical like more skins, which aren't exactly easy to pump out in massive amounts without causing the quality of the content to suffer).

Even if these solutions are made in vain, there is still hope. There is a potential evaluation of the rune pricing system coming up and surely further innovation will happen as time passes. It would still be nice to see some or all of these solutions implemented or, at the very least, that suggestions like these get seen by the right eyes, potentially accelerating the process of evaluation and innovation.

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